These Rough Trade singles, released from late 1979 through 1980, originate from a disparate group of people and run through a broad range of subjects: the anxiety of growing up, the flaws of capitalism, the silliness of trend-hopping, the wonder of photocopying, the pains (and joys) of breaking up, and the end of the world. (There's also a preferable alternative to James Brown's "Living in America.") This phase of the label was even more fruitful than the stretch covered during the first part of our feature, as it involved no less than six songs that should be part of any post-punk starter kit.
The Pop Group - "We Are All Prostitutes"
This is one of those records that changed everything. Truly one of the great gems of the post-punk era, with Mark Stewart's nasally whining, reedy vocal sneering, "We are all prostitutes/Everyone has their price/Everyone," this record shot out of the Rough Trade office like a rusty bullet, mowing down everything in its path. The ferocious, kinky, angular funk and free jazz that swirled around him as he spit words out became like shards of shaved metal when juxtaposed against dub-heavy bass and Gareth Sager's skittering snares. It was not only unsettling, disturbing even; it was righteous politically -- and you could almost dance to it! That most of this amazing band's records are out of print is almost a crime. - Thom Jurek
The Feelies - "Fa Cé-La"
For someone who missed the boat on the Feelies (they seemed to be standard R.E.M.-alikes when I first heard them around the time of The Good Earth), going back and hearing "Fa Cé-La" is a revelation. The jittery, stuttering song is two minutes of genius filled with feedbacking guitars, adenoidal vocals, shaky harmonies, and a killer hook. It sounds like the Velvets recorded in a teacup. It invented both jangle pop and the Paisley Underground at the same time -- not bad for a quartet of pencil-necked geeks from the Jersey suburbs. The song showed up on 1980's influential Crazy Rhythms and outshined everything else there. The band probably should have just broken up after recording it. You can't top perfection. - Tim Sendra
The Red Crayola - "Micro-Chips & Fish"
"Micro-Chips & Fish" was one of the first records credited to "The Red Crayola," rather than "Krayola." It is not a continuation of immediate prior Red Krayola projects done in collusion with Art & Language; rather, the group supporting Mayo Thompson here is the whole of the Rough Trade group Essential Logic, as was the case in the roughly contemporaneous Radar LP Soldier Talk. Thompson benefits by virtue of the rough saxophone of Lora Logic, alluring vocals by Gina Birch that follow Thompson's lead word for word, some of Thompson's own most aggravated and slashing guitar work, and the tasteful disco drumming of Epic Soundtracks. As a whole "Micro-Chips & Fish" is both retrospective in its outlook and indicative of future trends, which in the immediate sense for Thompson meant participation in Pere Ubu's masterwork The Art of Walking. - Uncle Dave Lewis
Scritti Politti - "Doubt Beat"
Although released third in their sequence of Rough Trade singles, Scritti Politti's Pre-Langue EP is a 12" drawn from their first Peel session, whereas their second Rough Trade single contained the second Peel session and, conversely, the final recordings by the first edition of Scritti Politti. The four songs here are completely different from one another, with "Doubt Beat" being a standout as it's the only one of the post-"Skank Bloc Bologna" Scritti songs to revive something of the promise of the group's first single. The other three are all over the map, though there is some hint of Scritti's future development as pop balladeers. Given the schizoid nature of what they are attempting to do -- to combine avant-garde roughness with pop prettiness -- it's not surprising that singer Green Gartside broke down not long after this, something that had already occurred when the Pre-Langue EP finally made its delayed bow. - Uncle Dave Lewis
Plastics - "Copy"
An uptempo, herky-jerky tune from Japan's short-lived Plastics, "Copy" sounds like a bubbly B-52's track played by nervous robots on speed. Lyrically, the track is as "new wave" as it gets. A spelling machine toy's robot voice introduces the song, and then the cutting-edge technology of the photocopier becomes an addiction for the band as each copy turns out more beautiful than the original. Rough Trade's 45 is treasured by the band's cult following, since the versions included are different than the ones on both the band's Japanese debut, Welcome Plastics, and their self-titled America/U.K. debut, which featured re-recordings with producer Alex Sadkin. Two albums and the Plastics were finished. Guitarist Hajime Tachibana would enjoy a successful solo career in Japan while "rhythm box" player Takemi Shima would reappear in 1999, working with Japan's Mick Karn and Kate Pierson of the B-52's on a project dubbed NiNa. - David Jeffries
Delta 5 - "Mind Your Own Business"
Fusing politics and danceability with icy-hot appeal, Delta 5's 1979 debut single was a tautly worded manifesto that essentially said "thanks for not sharing." Considering that the band was deemed Communist for their mixed-gender lineup and support of pro-choice rallies and the Rock Against Racism movement -- and was assaulted by fascist punks at a show -- it's an understandable viewpoint. Bethan Peters, Ros Allen, and Julz Sale's terse vocals loop in a fractured round over a shimmying beat and a sardonic, elastic bassline so catchy the band quoted it later on "Delta 5," while Alan Briggs' guitar slices through everything in its path. "Mind Your Own Business" was collected on several post-punk/new wave comps and covered by artists such as Le Shok and Chicks on Speed, which helped pave the way for the 2006 singles and EP collection Singles & Sessions. - Heather Phares
Television Personalities - "Part Time Punks"
The lead-off tune from the Where's Bill Grundy Now EP, "Part Time Punks" became a John Peel favorite in 1978. The snide lyrics about the eventual decline of punk's authenticity by trendy commercialism are sorely overlooked due to campy, slightly off-key melodies (something slightly reenacted by LCD Soundsystem two decades later on "Losing My Edge"). Originally released by Kings Road, Rough Trade reissued the 7" in 1979, beginning a relationship with Television Personalities (one of post-punk's longest running acts) that only lasted a few years but proved memorable nonetheless. - Rob Theakston
The Slits - "In the Beginning There Was Rhythm"
By the time Rough Trade got around to releasing "In the Beginning There Was Rhythm," the Slits had already issued their fine debut, Cut, and were moving from a reggae-driven sound to the kind of funk that Tom Tom Club would play later, except cuter and slicker. The solid yet messy snap of James Brown and the J.B.'s drum line, propped up by a gnarly, dubbed-up Chic bassline and the wondrous kind of anything-goes anarchy that created the punk spirit in the first place, gave the song fuel as the band lit the match. These women were taking it to the bridge in all sorts of knotty, angular ways, creating a dislocated dance music where if in the beginning there was rhythm, it was all there was: beginning, middle, and end. They could do anything because they had no idea there was anything they couldn't do in their fashion. Lyrics were rhythm, space was rhythm, and as Ari Up sings, "Sil-e-e-e-nce...is a rhythm, too." - Thom Jurek
Delta 5 - "You"
In contrast to "Mind Your Own Business," Delta 5's second single, 1980's "You," is personal and playful instead of political and aloof. Though it's just as witty as their debut single, it feels completely different. As she sings this downright joyful breakup song, Julz Sale sounds gleefully, completely done with her partner as she rattles off a hilarious laundry list of shortcomings: "Who left me behind at the baker's?" "Who took me to the Wimpy for a big night out?" "Who keeps me out when I want to go home?" The way she whoops "You!" after each indictment sounds like more and more nails being hammered into her relationship's coffin. "You" ended up being a breakup song in more than one sense: after the single's release and a U.S. tour, Delta 5 left Rough Trade for Pre, an offshoot of Charisma Records. - Heather Phares
Young Marble Giants - "Final Day"
Young Marble Giants didn't sound much like anyone before or since. Their restrained and studied yet emotionally rich style of minimalist post-punk proved quite influential as groups as diverse as Nirvana, Super Furry Animals, Lush, and Magnetic Fields pledged their devotion. Galaxie 500 and Belle & Sebastian both lovingly covered "Final Day" as well. 1979's "Final Day" single followed on the heels of the brilliant Colossal Youth LP and featured the trademark sound of Stuart Moxham's muted and angular guitar, Philip Moxham's melodic and chunky bass, a wheezy organ and Alison Statton's angelic vocals. Her sweetness gave the sometimes cold precision of the group's sound some heart and soul. On "Final Day," she could even make the harrowing prospect of nuclear annihilation sound like a sweet summer afternoon. The single can be found on the reissue of Colossal Youth, a disc that any self-respecting indie fan must own. - Tim Sendra
James Blood Ulmer - "Are You Glad to Be in America?"
James Blood Ulmer's "Are You Glad to Be in America?" had the honor of being the only jazz single Rough Trade ever released, though it was jagged and funky enough to get over with fans of the Pop Group, Delta 5, Gang of Four, and the new breed of post-punk bands emerging on the British pop landscape. Ulmer's guitar attack was at once cleaner and more visionary than the rockers who followed similar paths; the sharp, elegant patterns of his harmolodic picking are fiery and precise, and his backing band (including Amin Ali on bass and Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums) cuts a groove that ebbs and flows with the patient force of the Mississippi River. And while Ulmer never quite answers the question posed in the title, it was certainly a pertinent one in the year Ronald Reagan was elected president. - Mark Deming
Liliput - "Split"
By 1980, punk rock's first season as the noise heard 'round the world was over, and many who rode its first wave were wondering what to do next. Switzerland's Kleenex had already made one major change when a lawsuit prompted them to change their name to Liliput, but their first single under the new banner, "Split," suggested their evolution was just as natural and intuitive as their initial music. With the addition of new vocalist Chrigle Freund and Angie Barrack on sax, "Split" is tighter, hookier, and more driving than the seminal "Ain't You," with the horn adding new textures to the noisy pop melodies. But the free-spirited whoops and free-for-all chaos of the choruses (and let's-twist-again drumming) made it clear Liliput, like Kleenex, had no interest in a revolution that wasn't any fun, and this blast of unfettered joy is a treat for both mind and body. - Mark Deming
Pere Ubu - "Final Solution"
Rising from the proto-punk ashes of Rocket from the Tombs, the early lineups of Pere Ubu took the guitar-based angst of Peter Laughner's original vision and made more room for the inventive aural surrealism that was David Thomas' pride and joy. "Final Solution," recorded in early 1976, was a holdover from RFTT's repertoire, but while their take on the song was to approach it as the last word in teenage anxiety, with the addition of Allen Ravenstine's amelodic synthesizers Pere Ubu transformed "Final Solution" into some sort of psychic meltdown in the bohemian neighborhood adjacent to Three Mile Island. Datapanik indeed! This recording of "Final Solution" also proved to be one of Laughner's last contributions to Pere Ubu -- by June 1976 he was out of the band, and a year later he was dead. - Mark Deming
Robert Wyatt - "At Last I Am Free"
Some covers should not be covered. One great example of this adage is Robert Wyatt's version of Chic's "At Last I Am Free," which couldn't possibly be surpassed by anyone at any time, severity of real-life heartbreak or newfound freedom be damned. (Even Elizabeth Fraser failed.) Where the original, a seven-minute "whew!," is practically weightless in the wake of a painful relationship, Wyatt's translation is solemn (if resilient), too crushed to be the least bit celebratory and too blinded to be faster than a trudging processional. He might as well be singing "At least I am free" with that trembling tenor voice -- all he seems to have otherwise is his baggage, symbolized by the heavy-hearted drop-and-lift effect of the percussion. The profoundly affecting sorrow in this version has been known to penetrate the happiest of souls and transform them into quivering, sobbing wrecks. - Andy Kellman
[A version of this was originally published as a www.allmusic.com front-page feature in June 2006.]